Iceland’s newest airline, PLAY, might be starting off small, but it’s got big plans for the future. In 2021, it plans to double its fleet to six A320 family aircraft, with a view to launching service to North America in the first half of the year. Destinations are still under wraps, but the CEO, Birgir Jonsson, has dropped some strong hints.
Doubling the fleet
Yesterday, PLAY shared photos of its second A321neo in the paint shop, ahead of its delivery to the airline. Although the brand-new carrier is starting slowly, with just one aircraft at present, within a few weeks, it will have three.
For the rest of this year, PLAY will fly to key destinations in Europe. But beyond 2021, the plan is to go even further, doubling the size of its fleet and opening new destinations on the other side of the Atlantic. Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, PLAY’s CEO Birgir Jonsson said,
“Our plan is to have these three aircraft until next spring, and then we will add three more aircraft from the 320 family. We will launch the US operation – the model is simply to connect the East Coast of the US and Canada to select cities in Europe. That’s something that we will see happening, I would say, March, April, May.”
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Where will it go?
The strategic local of PLAY’s home in Iceland gives it the ability to connect the US and Europe in a highly efficient manner. It’s a model that worked well for WOW Air for a while until rapid growth proved to be its ultimate downfall. While PLAY’s CEO wasn’t keen to confirm his North America plans, he noted that it didn’t take a genius to figure out what’s on his hit list,
“We haven’t published or even finalised our final list, but we plan to launch the sales in November, December. But of course, you don’t have to be a genius to see which are the major cities. It’s going to be New York and Boston, Washington, Toronto – these kinds of cities, at least. And then we will see we have some surprises.
In WOW Air’s final year of operations, the airline flew to all the destinations mentioned by name by the PLAY CEO – Boston, Baltimore-Washington, Toronto and both Newark and JFK for New York. But it went to a whole swathe of other US locations, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Montreal, Dallas, Detroit, Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St Louis.
To achieve the distances required for the likes of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas, the airline moved out of the single-aisle segment and began operating widebody A330s. While it allowed it to open its network further, this came at a much higher cost. It was telling that the airline’s first A330s arrived in the second half of 2016, and 2017 saw it post its first annual loss.
Laser focussed on the East Coast
For PLAY, the widebodies and the West Coast hold no attraction. It plans to stick to the A320 family of aircraft, adhering to the ‘low-cost bible,’ as the CEO puts it. Even the LR and XLR are not currently in the plan, as longer flights would lead to reduced utilization and the need for overnight stops.
Overlaying the map with the range of the A321neo, for example, we can see that anywhere too far outside of the upper East Coast is not going to be feasible. As such, any ‘surprises’ PLAY might have are more likely to be less prominent cities in the upper east region – Raleigh-Durham springs to mind, or perhaps as far inland as Ohio.
Key to the airline’s philosophy is its ability to generate demand through introducing low fares in already busy markets. PLAY is not in the business of doing something brand new; rather, it wants to do what’s already being done but to do it cheaper, as the CEO explained,
“Our model is to go into markets that do exist. To go in there with lower prices and lower costs, and basically generate our demand from there, instead of investing in having to find new destinations or developing some new things. We believe that the cost is the is the driver.”
Keeping costs down means remaining laser focussed on optimal utilization of its aircraft and crew, along with providing reliable, on-time services and leaving its customers feeling happy with their trip. For PLAY, as long as it sticks to the game plan, the future is looking really quite bright.